In 2018, more than 28,000 people in the United States died from overdoses involving synthetic opioid, according to the CDC. Many of those deaths involved fentanyl.

At the University of Southern California, several recent deaths are suspected to involve opioids. This is according to officials from the Department of Public Safety.

“There has been a lot of speculation about the causes of recent tragic deaths at USC. Some of those deaths were overdoses, or appear to be overdose, and we won’t know until the coroner tells us," David Carlisle, the assistant chief of DPS told Annenberg Media on Tuesday. “There was speculation that some of the deaths may be attributed to fentanyl, a very powerful opioid, and we wanted to let students know that we’re preparing to help if that’s the case.”

On Thursday, Annenberg Radio News spoke with Bryce Pardo, an associate policy researcher at Rand Corporation, about the dangers of fentanyl and potential solutions.

“In those cases, individual drug users may not be aware that the product that they are consuming from these illicit street markets may contain these potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl,” Pardo said. “A little bit can cause an overdose. Users just don’t know what they’re taking, given that they’re buying these products from illicit sources.”

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than other opioids such as morphine or heroin. Pardo said many users think they’re taking another drug, and incidentally end up putting fentanyl into their systems.

“We think of it like a poisoning outbreak because by and large they do not want fentanyl," said Pardo. “They’re seeking out heroin. They’re seeking out prescription opioid tablets."

Pardo pointed to dealers as the culprit behind the deception.

“It’s the dealers on the other hand who have decided to move over to fentanyl because it is very cheap," Pardo said. "So, in that case, users - they’re being sold what they think is heroin or prescription drug, turns out that it contains neither of those products.”